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Web Watch by Leslie Walker
FTC Warns of No-Spam Registry

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_____Recent Columns_____
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By Leslie Walker
Sunday, February 15, 2004; Page F07

The Federal Trade Commission is warning people not to fall for a Web site claiming to offer an e-mail version of the federal do-not-call registry. The "Do Not Email Registry" invites folks to submit their e-mail addresses to stop getting junk e-mail. Trouble is, the site has no affiliation with the government, despite what its Web address (www.unsub.us) might suggest.

That ".us" domain was once mainly the province of local governments and schools, but it now can be used by any business or individual in the United States.

The FTC (www.ftc.gov) issued a press release Thursday saying the site appears to be a scam that could be collecting e-mail addresses on behalf of spammers.

Responding quickly, the Registry site on Friday added a disclaimer across its home page: "THIS WEB SITE IS PRIVATELY OWNED AND OPERATED." It also posted an "about us" page saying the site serves "legitimate direct marketers" who want to make sure their mailings don't go to spam opponents.

In a phone interview Friday, the owner, who requested anonymity, said he created the service at his own expense and is offering it for free to direct marketers. In the few weeks it has been up, the site has collected more than 300,000 e-mail addresses, he said. That list is made available to bulk mailers in an encrypted form that lets them check for any overlap with their own mailing lists without seeing the actual addresses.

While saying the FTC's action shocked him, the owner said he has no plans to back down from offering his "do-not-spam" service.

Teaching a Computer System How to Reason

Google may provide a good imitation of a human brain today, but the race is far from over to create smarter computers. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced Thursday he is funding the second phase of an ambitious effort to create a "Digital Aristotle" -- a computer system that can reason and analyze like humans.

Allen's investment company, Vulcan Inc., first developed this program last year in a six-month pilot called "Project Halo"; on Thursday, Vulcan announced it had hired three teams of industrial and academic researchers to compete to make Digital Aristotle brighter.

One first measure of success will be how many questions the computer program can correctly answer from Advanced Placement exams in chemistry, physics and biology. In tests last year, Digital Aristotle scored 3 out a possible 5 on those tests -- on par with the average student's results, said Noah Friedland, the computer scientist managing the project.

The project's goal, however, is not just to build a database of scientific knowledge that can answer test questions, but to create a computer that can reason about all these facts.

"Once upon a time there was a man named Aristotle, and he knew all the science in the world. You could walk up to him and ask him any scientific question and he could answer it, whether it was about physics, chemistry or biology," said Friedland. "The problem today is there is so much knowledge out there, it's impossible to have a human Aristotle."

Friedland declined to say how much money Vulcan is spending on Digital Aristotle. Participating researchers include scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Southern California.

www.projecthalo.com

E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com.


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